A National League Hockey Club, part of Holcombeians Sports Club

Tilly Woodhead: Bandurak and Phillips have helped me develop

By Lucas Ball

16-year-old goalkeeper Tilly Woodhead made a surprise Vitality Premier Division debut away to Loughborough Students on Sunday afternoon, keeping a clean sheet in the process as our Women’s 1s won 2-0 against the university outfit to move within a point of safety at the end of Phase Two.

The result means they will now face Loughborough Students, Reading and Buckingham in the Phase Three Play-Offs, with the bottom two at the end of these three matches being relegated from the Premier Division.

Woodhead has experience of playing indoor for the first team and also played a friendly against Surbiton in the winter pre-season, while she has also played for England at under-16 and under-18 level.

On making her debut, she said: “It was really nice, really cool to get the opportunity. It was quite unexpected getting the call but it was a great experience and I really enjoyed it.

“I got called up for the indoor last year, I was just 15 so only just at the age. I went and did that and have been training with the 1s ever since, it’s opened up a new door with me.

“I enjoy indoor much more, you’re very much involved as almost another player rather than just a goalkeeper, you’re more of a defender and much more active which I quite enjoy because my style is quite upright, not going down too much. I really enjoy indoor and it’s one of the favourite parts of my game.

“I played Surbiton in a friendly which was also unexpected but also really enjoyable.”

The victory gave Nick Bandurak’s side renewed hope of survival after two defeats the previous weekend, with the result at Loughborough also extending their unbeaten run away from home to five matches, a run stretching back to Phase One in November.

Woodhead praised Bandurak and assistant coach Hayden Phillips for their influence this season, as well as Sean Parker and fellow first-team goalkeeper Miriam Pritchard.

“Training with Mim has been great, I’ve learnt from her, learnt things from her that I wouldn’t necessarily have been taught if I hadn’t been training with her this year. It’s been really nice to train with her, play with internationals. It’s been a really good experience and there’s lots of people to look up to, to help me develop.

“It’s been really good having Nick and Hayden as coaches this year, they’ve given me a lot of opportunities and it’s helped me to develop a lot, it’s been really good.

“I’ve been training with the under-18s for England and done some work with the EDP [Elite Development Programme] squad, a couple of trials with that. We also had a camp a couple of weeks ago with a mix of the seniors, EDP, all age groups on the women’s side which was fun.

“I had Mim coaching me for one session so it was nice to have a friendly face around. It was really enjoyable and training with them is a completely different side of hockey, both sides help to really push you forward.

“I joined Holcombe at under-12 level, immediately there was a spot open for goalkeeper and that was why I moved, my previous club wouldn’t let me play in goal so I went for that and then had coaching every Sunday from Sean Parker which really benefitted me.

“In some ways, those sessions have got me where I am today because it taught me the basic skills, things that I still use in my game now because he set in the ground work for techniques that I still use now but have just developed on more. It was a big help.

“The club’s been amazing, they’ve supported me all the way, brought me up from such a young age and really aided me and given me the support I’ve needed to help me carry on my journey.”

The squad travelled with just 14 players on Sunday following a number of injury issues, though Woodhead believes that gave the team even more belief to go away to get the victory.

“I think the team spirit is really high at the moment, we’ve realised now fully that we still have that chance, there’s still that drive, we’re still pushing, trying our hardest. Everyone’s going for it, we’re all going out there and giving it our all every game.

“Spirits were very high heading into Saturday. We realised people were missing and we brought in Hannah [Carney] and I, we only had 14 because of injuries but we made use of what we had and everyone left everything on the pitch.

“I think in training we’re being very careful at the moment trying not to cause any more injuries! It is what it is and we’re managing through it.”

Some friends also made the journey up to support the team and Woodhead especially on Sunday afternoon, something which she was grateful for.

“It was a nice surprise. I was in the warm-up and Georgia came behind the goal, I had to a double-take. They’d driven up three hours to come to see me which was really nice, a great surprise.”

Woodhead is also looking forward to progressing further within the England set-up and commented on the pressurised nature of the trials and selection process.

“I find it quite enjoyable, I quite like the pressure of it, I feel it pushes you on more to help you perform better. I take it as it is and use it in my game to push forward.

“Last year in the under-16s I went to Holland for a Five Nations tournament, we had a couple of practice games in Germany and then an Eight Nations in Barcelona. Overall the experiences have been really cool, it was my first year doing any age group stuff in the whole England system so it was a great year to get some experience.”